KIERAN GILBERT: Let’s go to our panel now. In Melbourne, Labor Parliamentary Secretary for Trade Kelvin Thomson and in Adelaide, Liberal Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Water [the Murray-Darling Basin] and Environment Senator Simon Birmingham. Gentlemen, good morning.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Morning, Kieran.
KELVIN THOMSON: Good morning, Kieran, Simon.
KIERAN GILBERT: … Senator Simon Birmingham, with us as well, I want to ask you about what seems to be already a Coalition repositioning in the event of a possible [Labor] leadership change. Is that a fair assessment, that that is happening?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Oh, look, I don’t think that’s the case, Kieran. I think what we’re seeing at present is, of course, the Labor Party tearing itself apart, a lot of media speculation about who might lead the Labor Party to the election… The Coalition’s getting on with its job of outlining our positive vision for Australia and strategically and calmly releasing our policies between now and the election, as you would expect an opposition to do, and, frankly, whether it’s Kevin Rudd, who plunged Australia into debt and started the downward spiral, or Julia Gillard, who broke the competitiveness of Australian industry with her carbon tax, doesn’t really matter to us. We’ll be running against the Labor Government, the Labor Government’s failures, their failure to deliver on so many of their promises, and we’ll be running with our own positive vision that backs the ability of Australian businesses, of Australian families, of Australian individuals to do their best, of their own accord, without government getting in their way, with the least possible taxation, with the least possible red tape and regulation, but with the type of competitive spirit that we believe Australia best thrives under.
KIERAN GILBERT: I want to talk about coal seam gas. Senator Birmingham, the decision by Barry O’Farrell to put a buffer around urban areas… what do you make of it? Is the science secondary at the moment to the political pressure?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, it’s always been the right of state governments to determine land use policies in accordance with their own decisions as to what is appropriate in terms of development, managing that against residential and community concerns, and that’s what Barry O’Farrell’s done. We’ve seen similar debates about wind farms and the like over recent years. In the end, state governments are empowered to do this under the Constitution. That’s their job and that’s their role. We, of course, need to be mindful of those community concerns about coal seam gas but recognise that this is a very, very important export industry for Australia, very important to supplying Australia’s future energy demands, and so this is an industry that certainly has an important place for Australia but I think all Barry O’Farrell is saying today is it needs to be in the right places.
KIERAN GILBERT: … and, finally, your thoughts, Kelvin Thomson, on Ben Zygier? He was apparently arrested by the Israeli authorities on suspicions of being a double agent, of giving information of his secret… the secret operations with Mossad to ASIO [Australian Security Intelligence Organisation]. This case gets more and more mysterious by the day.
KELVIN THOMSON: Yes, and I don’t have any particular insights into it, Kieran. I know that Foreign Affairs Minister Bob Carr has ordered an investigation and report to him about the way in which the matter was handled by Australian consular officials and the like but I don’t have any particular information or insight that I can contribute in relation to that. You know, obviously he’ll be investigating that.
KIERAN GILBERT: Senator Birmingham… almost out of time but your thoughts on the way that this issue has been managed?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, Bob Carr’s already had to change his version of events on this matter once. We now see new information coming to light. If Bob Carr’s latest version of events is in any way misleading he should correct the record. Other than that, I note my colleague George Brandis says he’s asked now for a briefing from ASIO and, of course, if there are national security implications here, the Coalition will respect those but Bob Carr does need to make sure he has not in any way misled the Australian people over this.
KIERAN GILBERT: And, as I understand it, that DFAT… that Department of Foreign Affairs [and Trade] review into this matter is due over the next week or so. We’ll have the details for you as soon as we get them. Senator Birmingham, thank you for that. Kelvin Thomson, appreciate it this morning, thank you.
KELVIN THOMSON: Good to talk with you.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Thanks very much, Kieran, Kelvin.